Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

WNBA: Mercury Cancels "DeLisha" Factor

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ It seemed like old times in the Verizon Center Wednesday when a summer campers-driven crowd of 15,103 provided an electric home crowd effect for the Washington Mystics not seen in the building formerly known as the MCI Center for quite a while.

Until baseball came on the scene in the nation's capital, this used to be a regular occurence. Unfortunately, the vocal support of the past did not translate into victories and in that sense the result was the same Wednesday when the Phoenix Mercury shut down the Mystics in the fourth quarter with a 27-12 effort on the way to a 96-83 victory.

The triumph was a needed one for Phoenix in its drive to land a playoff berth in the Western Conference, while the defeat did little to halt Washington's solid hold on fourth place and the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

For Mystics fans, the best news was the return of DeLisha Milton-Jones, the 6-foot-1 forward who had been sidelined for 11 games since suffering an MCL sprain in her left knee against the New York Liberty on June 17.

Milton-Jones' return was also good news for the USA Basketball folks who are counting on her to be part of the roster in the FIBA World Championship after the season ends.

The former Florida star played 17 minutes, 48 seconds, and scored nine points, shooting 4 of 8 from the field, grabbing three rebounds and dealing three assists. She also had three turnovers.

Milton-Jones had been a key factor in Washington's improve play over a year ago at the start of the season.

"I'm happy to be back on the court, but sad because we lost the game," Milton-Jones said afterwards. "If I were really 100 percent then there are other things I could have done on the court; things that my old self normally does, like being more aggressive defensively, even attacking more offensively. But I had to play a really composed game because it's my first time back."

Milton-Jones added she felt her rhythm returned "after the first five minutes (she was in the game)."

"She played very hard, she did a good job," Mystics coach Richie Adubato critiqued Milton-Jones' performance. "She rebounded, she shot the ball pretty well, she hustled. For the first time back, that was a terrific performance. Hopefully now she's ready to move on."

The news that Milton-Jones was in uniform just added to the imposing situation Phoenix faced on a back-to-back schedule that began with a loss in Indiana to the Fever on Tuesday in a game that began at 1 p.m., and then continued here with a games that began at 11:30 a.m.

"I said to one of my assistants, that if she is in uniform, that means she could play," Phoenix first-year coach Paul Westhead said. "I'm glad to see her back. She is a very good player. She's going to help them in the playoffs."

Phoenix was helped immensely Wednesday by the play of Kelly Miller, the twin sister of Washington's Coco Miller, who scored a team-high 22 points, a total matched by the Mercury's Penny Taylor.

Former Connecticut star Diana Taurasi came on in the second half and had 18 points, and Kristen Rasmussen scored 10 points.

Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, the overall No. 2 pick in April's draft, is struggling with tendinitis in her left knee, but still scored eight points.

"Cappie played today, but the real Cappie Pondexter is kind of half-injured," Westhead said. "She played hard, though."

Pondexter shrugged off the injury. "I'm getting there," the Chicago native said. "But I'm just trying to help this team and show I'm great in other ways (besides scoring)."

Although Westhead is known for his high scoring offensive schemes, the former La Salle coach who's uptempo style became the hallmark of Loyola Marymount College and the 1980 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, spoke about reaching back to his Philly roots on defense.

"We're kind of playing the `Temple' defense," Westhead said of the matchup zone that caused Washington problems, especially when Phoenix broke the game open.

Taurasi endorsed the defense.

“I think it’s super,” Taurasi said. “We’re not the quickest team. We’re not the biggest team. So we have to make up for it in other ways and I think the zone helps us. It keeps us in games."

"We’ve been getting more comfortable in it.”Pondexter added, “It’s a very good defense. It’s very active and everybody is involved.”

Phoenix forced 11 turnovers in the second half and 17 overall, although Washington All-Star Alana Beard scored a game-high 23 points.

“He played it against us last time,” Adubato said of Westhead’s defense. “And we did a very good job. Today, they did a very good job with the matchup zone. They gave Indiana a very tough time (on Tuesday), with it. We didn’t get the tape until this morning and didn’t get enough time to make some adjustments.”

Westhead was delighted with Phoenix's ability to shake off the loss to Indiana.

“I said to our team I’m kind of happy to be around them because of their incredible resilence,” Westhead said.

“We’ve done this back-to-back, tough loss, come back and get a win, at least five or six times this season," he continued.

“So I don’t know where this team is going to wind up. It’s been a real happy experience to be around a group of players like this, whatever happens.”

-- Mel (with some on-the-scene assistance from Jonathan Tannenwald)


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